A First Look at RockMelt

In a day and age where people are spending a majority of their time online RockMelton social networking sites, it was only a matter of time before a browser came along that was built around social networking. RockMelt does just that.

Facts first. RockMelt requires you to have a Facebook account. You need to log into your Facebook account before you can do anything. Once inside, the browser is broadly divided into three areas for the three main jump off points for browsing. The left side of the browser is for interactions with your social graph. The sidebar holds the list of your Facebook friends and you can post to their walls or initiate chat sessions with them. The middle area is for Search initiated browsing, complete with a Google Search box. The right side bar holds the list of your subscription feeds, including your twitter feed. Selecting any single feed brings up the list of stories with a brief preview.

There are several things that RockMelt has gotten right. Firstly, they have leveraged the Chromium project. Not only has Google done a great job of building a solid browser in Chrome, but RockMelt can completely leverage Chrome’s rapidly growing user base.

Secondly, RockMelt has stolen a huge stride over social networking clients such as Seesmic and TweetDeck. While these tools are sophisticated in working with Twitter and Facebook, they still force users to switch back and forth between their social interactions and their browsing. RockMelt truly recognizes the narrowing of the separation between the two.

RockMelt also does a great job with the onscreen real estate. Widescreen monitors are fast becoming the order of the day. There is really no reason to hang all features off the central area like browser plugins have done for ages. By making use of sidebars and also clearly associating different functionality to different areas of the screen, RockMelt vastly simplifies browsing.

There are however a few things that RockMelt needs to watch out for. The basic concept of incorporating social networking aspects within a browser is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Considering the number of browsers fighting for attention, it is only a matter of time before one of the major browsers come up with a matching feature. In fact, Mozilla Labs has released a Firefox extension that enables in-browser link sharing across social networks.

Google and Facebook’s increasing hold over our online lives have led to many privacy concerns recently. RockMelt will be in a unique position to gather data from users’ Facebook and Google usage. RockMelt claims that it will not gather such data, but it will perhaps be a question that they would have to answer more than once. At least until they become as big as Google or Facebook.

Farmville Could Land You in Trouble, Literally

The extremely popular Facebook game, Farmville, along with several other apps have been found transmitting users’ Facebook IDs to advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. Breaking theFarmville news, the WSJ article states

The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook’s strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.

The id allows anybody to look up the user’s Facebook profile and grab the list of his friends, irrespective of the user’s privacy settings. It can also allow access to the user’s photos and other information, if they have been set to be shared with “everyone”. The advertising companies are prohibited from accessing these pieces of information directly. However, the breaching apps and sometimes, even the user’s browser, transmit the ids to the programs from the ad companies.

The article cites the example of RapLeaf Inc., a data gathering firm, which has linked the Facebook Ids it obtained from apps with its own database of Internet users. RapLeaf also transmitted the ids to dozen other firms, the article states. Reacting to the news, Joel Jewitt, the VP of Business Development at RapLeaf is quoted to have said “We didn’t do it on purpose”.

The list of apps includes the top ten popular games on Facebook . Farmville alone, for example boasts 59 million users worldwide. Facebook has started taking steps to plug the security hole. To begin with, Facebook has shutdown a number of apps that were found transmitting the ids, the article said.

Source:Wall Street Journal

Angry Birds Off to a Flying Start on Android

Angry Birds, the ultra addictive game that has topped 11 million downloads on iPhones and iPads, broke another record over the weekend. In the first two days of being available on the Android platform, the game averaged a million Angry Birdsdownloads per day.  Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, announced this via a tweet. Obviously, the fact that the game is currently available for free on Android has contributed to the flying start. Yet, it appears that Rovio may not have entirely expected things to go so well since the download frenzy crashed the GetJar site forcing them to make the game available on the Android market as well.

A smashing success, no doubt!

Google Voice Actions Lets You Text, Email, Find Music and More on Your Android Phone

Android might just have pulled ahead of the iPhone in having a real voice based management feature. By real, we mean one that lets you text and email. Google announced Voice Actions for Android Phones on August 12th. While we are all familiar with the voice search feature on the Google app (available on both iPhone and Android phones), Voice Actions takes the ease of talking instead of typing to a whole new level.

The following is a list of commands that can be performed via Voice Actions:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]

And here is the official video on the feature.

In comparison, the Voice Control feature available in iPhone 3GS covers only the calling and music playing functions.

Voice Actions require Android 2.2 and will come pre-installed in Motorola Droid 2 phones. Other phones running Android 2.2 will have to download app updates from the Android Marketplace.

While this is great news for Android users, it is somewhat of a game changer for companies such as Vlingo which were building similar voice based messaging apps for the Android phones. However, Vlingo appears to have taken the news in its stride. In a gracious post on their blog, the CEO of Vlingo has congratulated Google and announced that Vlingo for Android will be free effective immediately so that users can compare for themselves.

The jury is still out on how intuitive and accurate Voice Actions is, but one thing is for sure; it will put a serious dent in number of people texting and driving. And that makes Voice Actions worthy of celebration.

Source: Google Blog, Vlingo Blog

Google’s Open Spot Aims to Reduce Your Parking Woes

Google Open SpotGoogle Labs has come out with yet another innovative solution, this time to reduce your parking woes, with the Open Spot mobile app. The app helps you locate open parking spots within a mile radius. Of course, the success of the app is contingent upon the number of do-gooders around you. Those pulling out of a parking spot can use the app to mark the spot as available, so that you can fire up the app and see all the available spots. The spots are colored based on how long they have been vacant. Just marked spots are red, those that have been open for five minutes are orange and those that have been vacant for ten minutes are marked yellow. Spots are removed after twenty minutes.

If you are thinking that your weekend parking problems are now solved, there is one catch however – the app is only available on Android phones at this point (Maybe that will push you to buy that Droid X!). Regardless, it is a great attempt at solving an everyday problem most of us face.

So, what about people who mark spots that don’t exist, you ask? Well, they are called ‘griefers’. Google will be watching for such people and will take ‘suitable steps’. Not to mention the  karmic retribution they are guaranteed for putting parking seekers to more grief.

via Google

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